Quick pic: Books

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My church family blessed me with a Christmas gift for my organ playing. I turned half of it into this stash, to improve what we do here at Sac.

The highlight is “Family Table,” a collection of recipes served at staff meals at Danny Meyer’s restaurants. I’ll check in later with how it is.

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A $70 book, worth it for the corn muffins

I’ve stopped using bagged mixes, I’ve stopped using Jiffy. I’ve stopped slamming cookbooks in disgust. Because I finally found a corn muffin I love.

Of course, it’s a pro recipe, from “Baking & Pastry,” a Culinary Institute of America cookbook. It’s a $70 cookbook, so I don’t expect most of you to have it, but I believe it’s required reading in some CIA classes, and I’ve seen it kicking around some New Jersey restaurant kitchens. It’s one of my go-to books.

It’s really geared toward serious bakers and home cooks who dream of opening a bakery someday — and a quick glance will indeed have you making plans for your patisserie.

Nearly 100 pages are devoted to equipment, principles and formulas, before the book gets into basics, like beginner doughs ad rolls. The recipes roll out in greater and greater difficulty, ending with wedding wakes and chocolate creations.

But I’m in love with the corn muffins. I’ve made them a half-dozen times and will do it again this weekend.

My search began about two years ago when I served homemade muffins to a large crowd that my friends deemed, at once, to be hard, flat and inedible. I swiped one from their bread basket and couldn’t disagree. They were pretty awful, even though they’d been perfect after they came out of the oven.

I need something with more character, more softness and the ability to scale up to serve a few hundred. I found it in this recipe that gets some bright sweetness from orange juice concentrate, some softness from pastry flour and integrity because of fussy measurements.

Corn muffins

  • 1 pound, 2 ounces bread flour
  • 1 pound, 2 ounces pastry flour
  • 15 ounces cornmeal
  • 1 ounce salt
  • 1 1/2 ounce baking powder
  • 12 1/2 ounces eggs
  • 30 fluid ounces milk
  • 1 pound, 2 ounces vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 fluid ounces orange juice concentrate
  • 1 pound, 12 ounces sugar

Coat 48 muffin tins with a light film of fat or use paper liners.

Sift together flours, cornmeal, salt and baking powder.

In a large stand mixer, combine eggs, milk, oil, orange juice and sugar, and mix on medium speed with a paddle attachment for 2 minutes.

Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until incorporated.

Fill tins three-quarters full, using about 4 ounces of batter per cup. Tap the filled tins to release air bubbles.

Bake at 400 degrees 15 to 18 minutes, or until a skewer inserted near the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool in the tins 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Yield: 48.

From: “Baking & Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft” by the Culinary Institute of America.

From the bookshelf: Sweet sausage

Four years after becoming a full-time food journalist, I left the paper with just about the same number of cookbooks as I began with. Thank my wife for not allowing them to accumulate. If I brought new ones home, some of my own had to go to the paper, where they would be sold at our annual charity cookbook sale. I’d be surprised if I have 100 cookbooks.

One that’s stayed with me for the last seven years is “Charcuterie” by food writer Michael Ruhlman and chef Brian Polcyn. It covers the gamut of cured and smoked meats and has become a valuable resource as we seek to make our own sausages. If you’ve joined the charcuterie craze or are just mildly curious, I strongly recommend it.

My favorite recipe from the book is a Mexican chorizo we adapted this winter for a venison chorizo that was added to a Caesar salad at our annual Sacandaga Sportman’s Day.

GROUND MEXICAN CHORIZO

  • 2 1/2 pounds venison, ground
  • 2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, ground
  • 2 tablespoon ground chilies
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

Combine all ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Wrap in plastic wrap or freezer paper, and chill until ready to cook or stuff.

Yield: 5 pounds raw.

Adapted from: “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

More on salt — from the book of Wolke

As I retrieved salt shakers from tables yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice the proliferation of rice in one of them. Surprisingly, another shaker was missing all traces of rice.

You can’t tell we served teenagers this weekend, can you? And that I have salt on the brain?

But the rice-in-the-shaker thing has always been a curiosity of mine, namely because I’m not convinced it “absorbs humidity so the salt doesn’t,” or whatever variation of that phrase you use. I do, however, believe rice is helpful in agitating the salt, breaking up the little clumps — something that comes in handy every summer during that weeklong stretch of 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity.

Looking for the definitive scientific word on the rice-in-the-shaker thing, I headed for the book of Wolke. Actually, both books of Wolke. That’s Robert L. Wolke, the chemistry professor and former Washington Post food columnist who penned “What Einstein Told His Cook” in 2002 and a Part 2 a few years later.

I was a bit surprised to find today that neither book actually touches the saltshaker issue (but you can get some opinions here, here and anywhere else Google takes you). But I spent a half-hour reading about salt, which got its own chapter in the original book, because it’s our “most precious food.”

Did you know:

  • Salted boiling water will help blanched green vegetables retain their color?
  • The FDA doesn’t require sea salt to live up to its name, so long as it adheres to certain purity standards.
  • When dissolved in water, a 2001 study found no difference in taste between expensive sea salts and household table salt.
  • The potato-in-soup trick doesn’t remove excess salt so much as it absorbs the cooking liquid, which may or may not be salty. (The real trick is to add more of an opposite flavor to counteract it — sweet to salty; sour to bitter. But as Alton Brown says, that’s another show.)

I’d suggest investing in either or both book, not only for the reference but for the refreshingly fun way each is written. When the second book came out, I took it on vacation to the Outer Banks  and knocked it out in parts of two afternoons.

You also can get a free dose of Wolfe in his archived Washington Post columns.

You’ll never look at everyday food the same way again.

(To those of you wondering why I haven’t mentioned the other notable food scientist Harold McGee … that, too, is another show.)

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